In July 2017 I had a chance to interview a hockey legend.
Ed Johnston was the special guest of the Maritime NHLer’s For Kids Event on Prince Edward Island to honour his lifelong friend and former team Forbes Kennedy.
I was writing for the MN4Kids and was obviously thrilled to interview and have a chance to talk with the five-time Stanley Cup Champion.
At the time I was writing for a Bruins fan page based out of the United States. After a sit down interview with Mr. Johnston before the Gala Event, I asked him if I could reach out and write a feature article on his B’s days.
“Of course, no problem, here you go, this is my home number,” Johnston said.
I couldn’t believe it.
Things didn’t go as planned with Bruins fan page, and my writing opportunities changed substantially.
I was approached by Brunswick News several months later to write a series of articles on the history of the Moncton Coliseum.
I don’t think they expected how far I would go.
The original freelance assignment called for seven articles.
I remember being so anxious about the deadline, that I wrote four articles in as many days.
I ended up writing eight articles averaging roughly 800 to 1000 words each.
I was very fortunate to interview twenty-six people for the project one of which being Mr. Ed Johnston.
I still remember picking up the phone to call him.
Would he remember me?
Would he want to talk about his American Hockey League days?
Mr. Johnston wasn’t home, he was vacationing and was set to return in three or four days.
My nervous energy and anxiety would have to wait for another couple of days.
I waited almost a week before calling him back. I was so nervous, dialing the number. I will never forget that twenty-minute conversation.
All I could do was say thank you, I must have said thank you like ten times.
I will never forget being able to spend time Mr. Johnston in 2017 and the phone interview in the fall of 2018.
Ed Johnston Continues to Win ( Originally Published on July 31, 2017)
Winning never gets old!
At 81, Ed Johnston hoisted Lord Stanley in Nashville on June 11, 2017.
“It weighs 37 pounds, it was getting kind of heavy, there’s a lot of names on there now,” said Johnston.
“It’s a once in the lifetime thrill, it’s just fabulous to win.”
Johnston has been fortunate enough to lift the Cup five times throughout his illustrious NHL career that has spanned five and half decades.
Johnston won his first two Stanley Cups with the Boston Bruins in 1970 and 1972. Those teams were lead by Bobby Orr. “I’ve never seen a player that could speed up or slow down a game like Bobby,” Johnston recalled. “He’s probably the best player that I’ve ever seen and played with, and maybe the best ever.”
Johnston would backstop the Bruins for ten seasons before joining the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1973-74. Johnston would have stops in St. Louis and Chicago before retiring in 1977-78.
Johnston stayed on with the Blackhawks organization following his playing days and was named head coach of their American Hockey League affiliate the New Brunswick Hawks, which were based out of Moncton in 1978-79.
The Montreal, PQ native would make the jump to the parent club the following season but only lasted one season behind the bench of the Blackhawks before joining the Pittsburgh Penguins organization in 1980-81.
Johnston would eventually find himself leaving the coaching ranks for the front office. He took over as GM of the Penguins in 1984 and forever changed the fortune of the organization by drafting Mario Lemieux in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft.
“We have been very very blessed, I look back at our franchise, we drafted Mario in 1984, for the past 34 years we have had the best hockey player in the business,” said Johnston.
“When Mario got sick, Jagr stepped in and when Mario came back, he took over again. Right now we have Sid, who is a special player, he is going to be one of the all-time great players,” reflected Johnston.
Johnston wasn’t around to celebrate the Penguins back-to-back Championships of the 90’s because he had joined the Hartford Whalers front office in 1989. Some say Johnston’s decision to trade Ron Francis to the Pens was the catalyst for their Cup success.
After three seasons as GM in Hartford, Johnston returned to Pens organization as a coach and has remained with the organization ever since.
Johnston was a special guest for the Maritime NHLer’s for Kids Gala and Golf tournament this past week, which honoured his long time friend and teammate Island legend Forbes Kennedy.
Kennedy credits Ed’s old brother Billy for their initial introduction in the mid 50’s. “I was sitting next to this guy watching the Montreal Canadiens practice and it turned out to be Ed’s brother, ‘you play against my brother Eddie’ who played for Three Rivers at that point,” added Kennedy.
“What do you know, the next year Ed gets traded to the Jr. Canadiens in my last year of Jr. and that’s how that all happened,” said Kennedy.
“Eddie is like a brother to me, we even lived together while we were playing in Boston.”
“It’s special to be invited by the Maritime NHLer’s for Kids, Forbesie and I have been friends for sixty some odd years,” said Johnston.
“To have a friend like that, we stay in touch all the time, he’s a special guy, not only as a player but as a human being and a family guy, they don’t come any better,” added Johnston.
Kennedy fondly remembers the duos days in Beantown like it was yesterday. “Actually there were five of us that lived together at a place in Revere beach, Eddie, Warren Godfrey, Jerry Toppazzini and Irv Spencer, we all got along great.”
Kennedy remembers receiving a telegram from Johnston the night of his NHL debut. “Back then Eddie called me Spud,” Kennedy said. “The telegram read I knew you could make it Spud, Keep going.”
“That telegram meant a lot to me,” added Kennedy.
Ed Johnston and Forbes Kennedy share a friendship that has transcended the game of hockey and has stood the test of time.
A Memorable Beginning for the New Brunswick Hawks
(Originally Published April 18, 2018)
Ed Johnston, now a five time Stanley Cup Champion made his professional coaching debut with the NB Hawks in 1978-79.
“The experience was terrific, it was a stepping stone for me because I moved up to Chicago the following year,” said Johnston.
“Having the opportunity to be there for the first year in the American Hockey League was terrific, the attendance was great, the people in Moncton were fantastic.”
Johnston’s coaching prowess might have had an impact on several players on that roster and perhaps gave them some initiative to start coaching after their playing careers ended.
Future NHL coaches Ron Wilson, Joel Quenneville, Darryl Sutter and Bruce Boudreau all played the inaugural season for the AHL in Moncton.
The eighty-two year old, Johnston is quick to point out that he had six former players coach in the National Hockey League. An encounter with Boston Celtic Legend Tommy Heinsohn might have led to Johnston’s quick transition to the show.
“I got into fundamentals, and we ended up having a really good power play and I ran a lot of my power plays with basketball picks,” Johnston said.
“It was all set up by Tommy, we started talking about the picks and stuff they were doing and the next thing you know I implemented in our game.”
Bruce Boudreau was 3rd in team scoring with 58 points that season and would play the better part of three seasons in Moncton.
Darryl Sutter who was only twenty years old at the time played 19 games, but would be a star the following year for the Hawks scoring 35 goals and amassing 66 pts. in 69 games before finding a permanent place in the NHL.
Joel Quenneville’s stay in Moncton was temporary, but definitely made an impact while he was there, amassing 11pts in only 16 games before getting the call to Toronto Maple Leafs.
Ron Wilson’s impact was even greater on the backend amassing 31 pts. in 31 games for the Hawks.
Wilson would continue his torrid point scoring pace the following year with the Hawks when he had 63 pts. in 43 games.
The Moncton Coliseum provided the stage and the platform for some amazing hockey spectacles through the AHL era.
“We were playing against the Maine Mariners and the late Pat Quinn was coaching, they had a very physical team, we had a couple of guys up with Chicago and Toronto so we brought in some tough guys from the senior leagues,” remembered Johnston.
“They were used to clearing their benches a little bit, so we had to get a couple of guys with us, so it didn’t take us too long before we did, but that’s what you had to do back then,” said Johnston.
Johnston has never forgotten his time in Moncton and how critical it was for his development as a coach.
“That year was very important for me, it was my first year coaching and I learned how to communicate and discipline players,” Johnston said.
“It was really important to teach a lot and give a lot of confidence to our guys, that was very instrumental for our hockey club and organization,” added Johnston.
After the Calder Cup victory in 1982, Chicago and Toronto decided to pull their American League team out of Moncton and that’s when the Edmonton Oilers brought the Alpines to the Hub City for the next two seasons.